Bluff in chess?

By admin

grischuk_bluffIt’s important in every chess game to have a plan but it’s also important to know your opponent’s plan. You can guess it if you know the opening theory or you can think about the sequence of previous moves but even body language can be a big help. I call it a bluff when I know what the opponent is going to play and I play something in response which can be really good or really bad for me depending on if the opponent follows his plan or changes it. My experience is that humans tend not to change strategy from one move to another (and probably that’s our biggest weakness against computers). But anyway, I believe that in human chess sometimes it really worths to risk and make a bluff. Let’s see the following example:

In this position White was preparing an attack against the a7 and b7 pawns for a long time. After the last move Qa4 now b7 is hanging and Nd7 is a threat after which Nxb8 and Qxa7 is White’s plan.

What's the bluff?

What's the bluff?

Observing the opponent’s eye movement I was sure that he’s intending to play Nd7 on the next move so I set up my bluff by playing Rc7?! Seemingly it only defends b7 but it does not prevent Nd7 so White played that after which came Qd5+ and White resigned. When setting up the bluff I also considered that horizontal threats are more difficult to see and also that if White plays the correct Bf4 then Qd5+-Kh2-Rc6-Bxb8-Rxb8-Qxa7-Rcc8-Nd3-Nc6 and Black is still in the game however White should be better. There is always a risk, but it just gives an extra (very human) dimension to the game which I like very much. So my question is: do you bluff in chess? And should you?

This post is intended to be a starting point of an open discussion so your comments are welcome below this post here.


6 Responses to Bluff in chess?

  1. Christophe on 03/03/2010 at 15:10

    Hello Milan,

    The problem with …Rc7 is that the seemingly best move for White, Bf4, is quite natural (actually, it is the first move that comes into mind when you look at the position for the first time, considering thah Rc7 obstructs the Bb8). So you’re lucky that your opponent went for the losing Nd7.

    Starting from the diagram, I would suggest …b6 for Black, also intending to provoke Nd7, with the same consequences if I’m not mistaken: Nd7 – Qd5+ – Kh2 – b5 and I think the Nd7 is again lost. But there, the better moves for White (retreating the Nc5) don’t win a pawn like Bf4 after Rc7 and the position stays more or less equal.

    Generally speaking, if you want to set a trap for your opponent (why not? it’s fun, I agree on that), you should ensure that the best continuation for him is not a natural or obvious move.


  2. Milan on 03/03/2010 at 15:34

    I agree with you Christophe that looking at the diagram Bf4 is quite obvious, but if you reach this position as a result of a sequence of many preparatory moves the situation is different (in humans’ brain). That was exactly my point in the article that humans don’t play chess like computers do (re-evaluating the position after each move – actually we should ), but they follow plans. Of course good players don’t fall to cheap tricks like this but at some point it’s more about psychology than chess, if you know your opponent’s style, you read his body language correctly a bluff might work even if it’s unsound. The funny part is to decide if it worths the risk? By the way Christophe, did you ever face similar situation? Decide if you should set up a bluff and win immediately or play against something which has 1% chance that ever crossed your opponent’s mind and sit there for probably another 4 hours?

  3. Christophe on 04/03/2010 at 12:31

    Well, generally speaking, I think it’s better to play more “like computers”, ie try not to play moves that really change the evaluation of the position in the opponent’s favor. You should set “traps” only if the best reply from your opponent only marginally improves his situation compared to what would have happened after what you think is your very best move. And even then, I would advise not to do so too often, because trying to play against “best play” from your opponent will help you to progress, while playing on the opponent’s supposed weakness will not.
    In your position:
    1) the “correct” continuation for Black is probably Rfd8, usefully developing this rook with possible later pressure on d4 (Nb7 is no more a threat than Nd7 because of Qd5+).
    2)Qd5+ immediately is another healthy move but I understand it “kills the fun” because it obviously prevents temptations of bad moves such as Nd7 or Nb7 from your supposedly weak opponent. As Tarrasch said, “la menace est plus forte que l’exécution” so let’s postpone this check!
    3) …Rc7 takes unnecessary risks, because after a natural move such as Bf4 by your opponent, you may end up worse (I’m not completely sure of the position after the line you give after Bf4, it seems complicated and double edged, so maybe you’re not worse, but there is no reason to enter such complications considering you’re quite safe and even slightly better in the starting position)
    4) I suggested …b6 in my first mail, setting the same trap as …Rc7 but I’ve changed my mind after looking at the position a little longer. While it does not lose a pawn or enter unclear complications like …Rc7, it is positionnaly weak and White may end up better after the re-routing of their Knight to b4 and possibly c6.
    Therefore, I’m afraid I would not “bluff” at all in this position and play Rfd8 (well, one never knows, your opponent can still play Nxb7??)

  4. Pere on 05/03/2010 at 02:02

    A bluff can be a very good idea when you are in a lost position. The side with the better position tends to be overconfident.

    Setting a trap can be no harm, either, if your position doesn’t resent from it.

    In the diagram, however, I feel black is better, but after Rc7, things are not so clear, and maybe white is even better.

    Even if …Tfd8 should be OK, I would play probably …Cf5 followed maybe by …Dg6. White’s kingside structure seems a bit weakened and I can imagine tactical ideas as …Ag3 …Ce3 or …Ch4, directly or after …h5 h4

    Of course Cb7 or Cd7 is still not possible because …Ce3 followed by …Dd5, so …Cf5 also sets a trap

  5. Milan on 05/03/2010 at 12:04

    Yes it seems that there were many ways to set up the same trap. Just reflecting on Pere’s suggestion: I looked at Nf5 but I was not sure how to keep my initiative after g4-Nxe3+-fxe3-Qd5+-Rf3. Probably computers like it, to me it was not so charming anymore. Certainly I missed some better alternatives in this line. But anyway that’s the nice thing in human chess that mistakes play such an important role and it’s so much fun to exploit them. However I have to agree with Christophe that playing only on the opponent’s weakness does not improve one’s chess progress.

  6. Pere on 05/03/2010 at 13:25

    g4? Nh4 is devasting. All the dark squares weakened, Qd5 or Qh3 on the air… At least the h or the f pawn should drop if there is no mate

    I feel the black attack is dangerous for white, so if I were white, I would have tried to exchange queens with Qd1, but then it would be strategically very difficult for white, with the weakness in d4 and the bad bishop…

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